Tag Archives: Hawaii

‘UNFAMILIAR FISHES’ BY SARAH VOWELL

‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ is Sarah Vowell’s bestselling book that recounts the fascinating history of the Hawaiian Islands.

UNFAMILIAR FISHES

Summary

For Sarah Vowell, it is no secret that Hawaii is America’s melting pot, where different cultures merge together creating an unusual yet coherent whole. But how did it happen that this once independent kingdom eventually became the 50th state? Trying to find out, Sarah decides to retrace the archipelago’s rich history.

To the sounds of Brother Iz’s famous songs, she wanders the streets slowly unraveling the islands’ past. Hopping from one museum to another, she discovers the old Polynesian ways, studies the nuances of the local language, learns about Hawaii’s royal leaders and desperate-to-civilize-the-heathens missionaries from New England. Everything she does, whether it’s nibbling at her lunch in Waikiki or paying a visit to ‘the haole rich kid school’ – the same Barack Obama proudly calls his alma mater – makes her think, analyze, and contemplate how some people changed the place.

Review

What comes to your mind when you hear the world ‘Hawaii’? Paradise. Flower leis. Ukulele. Grass skirts. Aloha spirit. Tourist-style hula dance. Shave ice. Hawaii Five-0. That ever so popular blue drink. Sandy beaches. Surfing. Malasadas. Oh, and spam! You can’t forget about spam. Now, what doesn’t usually come to your mind is the state’s history. You may be perfectly familiar with it; or you may have no idea who King Kamehameha the Great was. Whatever the case, the archipelago’s past isn’t something you tend to focus your attention on. But, chances are, this will change when you take ‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ in your hands.

Sarah Vowell definitely knows how to recount bygone times. She is not your typical writer who bores you with countless dates, names, and not particularly important events. She is more of a guide who gives you a tour of the islands, stopping here and there to explain a few relevant facts. She is quick and straight to the point. What she offers you is the pure essence – summarized report, in which she managed to squeeze almost one hundred years into two hundred and something pages.

Now, her presentation might be somewhat abbreviated, but it definitely doesn’t lack thoroughness. Actually, you may be quite surprised to learn just how much you didn’t know about America’s 50th state. While focusing primarily on the imperialist intentions of the haole missionaries (well ok, they started schools and created the Hawaiian alphabet, so it can’t be denied that they did something good), the narrative is sprinkled with interesting and often revealing snippets regarding the obscene natives, party-loving whalers, and incestuous monarchs. This mixed bag of characters gives you a clearer understanding of what was really happening in the ‘tropical paradise’ during the 19th century. I highly doubt that certain issues Sarah Vowell writes about get even the slightest mention in other history books. But then again, ‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ isn’t your regular history non-fiction. It really stands out from the crowd.

This might have something to do with the author herself – an extremely talented person who has the ability to make the most mundane, lifeless, and tedious subject more digestible for an ordinary human being not necessarily interested in the events of the past. Despite being acquainted with Hawaii’s history, she is not an expert and doesn’t even pretend to be. But she cares; and she digs deep. When such attitude is combined with a deliciously wry sense of humour and a ready wit, the result simply must be spectacular. And in this case, it is.

If you try hard, you will probably find a thing or two that maybe should have been written differently. Sure. But, quite honestly, there’s no point in searching for flaws or imperfections. Instead, sit back with a glass of Mai Tai and immerse yourself in this very engaging read. Soon you will be hooked and possibly planning your own journey. Just to discover the real Hawaii.

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GREAT SUMMER READS (2014)

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan, bored with his corporate job, decides to fulfil his dream and cruise the Pacific Ocean. He buys a boat and, together with his friend Figman, begins a great adventure.

After a short stop in Mexico, Bryan sails to French Polynesia, Hawaii, Kiribati, Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia. Along the way he meets a variety of people, both native Islanders and foreign visitors, makes some new friends, and has a lot of fun while discovering the wonders of the Blue Continent.

This is a brilliant story created to entertain readers and give them a little bit of enjoyment. Written with a fantastic sense of humour, it will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. A truly compelling read for one of those lazy summer days!

‘An Afternoon in Summer’ by Kathy Giuffre

Kathy, a single mother of two young boys, decides to spend her sabbatical year researching indigenous art of Rarotonga. Eager to live on a tropical island, she packs her sons and together they set off on a magical adventure.

After arriving in the Cooks, Kathy finds out that they have no place to stay. Her unlikely saviour is Emily, an 82-year-old Maori lady, who offers them a room in her house by the ocean.

This beautiful and heart-warming book is a must-read for every woman who dreams of escaping from reality, forgetting about problems, and decamping to an almost ideal location. It’s a touching story that inspires, evokes emotions, and stirs the soul.

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’ by J. Maarten Troost

At the age of 26, Maarten moves to Kiribati with his girlfriend Sylvia. Soon after arrival, their expectations of a tropical paradise are brutally shattered into pieces. The spectacular corner of the globe turns out to be a polluted, dirty island where one needs to find a way to survive while being ‘surrounded’ by the rhythms of ‘La Macarena’.

Nevertheless, Maarten and Sylvia learn how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and after two years are reluctant to go home.

It seems that only J. Maarten Troost can create such a brilliantly written, humorous story that captures attention and simply doesn’t let go. It is a thoroughly engaging travelogue filled with hilarious anecdotes and some thought-provoking reminiscences that will leave you wondering what’s really important in life.

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ by J. Maarten Troost

Upon returning from Kiribati, Maarten takes a job at the World Bank. His new, buttoned-down life quickly makes him tired. He misses the islands of the South Seas and dreams of another escape. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

As they land in Melanesia, they are eager to immerse themselves in the local culture. They drink kava, get to know the country’s history, and discover the darker side of humanity – cannibalism. Everything seems to be almost peachy until Sylvia gets pregnant and the couple is forced to search for proper medical care. Unable to find it in Vanuatu, they decide to move to Fiji.

Another great story created by Troost. It’s definitely different from his first book, nevertheless it is just as good. It is a comic travelogue-cum-touching memoir, in which the author shares his thoughts and reflections not only on finding paradise but also on discovering the true meaning of ‘home’.

‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ by J. Maarten Troost

Inspired by famous writers, newly sober Maarten decides to come back to his beloved Pasifika in order to retrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s route through the Blue Continent.

Following in the Scottish author’s footsteps, he travels from island to island, taking time to explore all the places he has read about. Somewhere along the way, his adventure turns into an amazing journey of self-discovery.

This book is not as light-hearted and amusing as Troost’s previous works. It’s much more serious; it’s personal and intimate; it’s focused on giving readers valuable insights into the cultures of the South Seas. The author’s style may have matured, but it’s still utterly unique. You will definitely have a lot of fun while reading this fascinating tale!

‘BULA: SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC’ BY BRYAN CARSON

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ is an adventure book that tells the story of Bryan Carson’s three-year-long voyage through the islands of the South Seas.

BULA SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC

Summary

At the age of 29, Bryan comes to the realization that working for the corporate world is not his calling. He dreams of an escape, something new and exciting. As he doesn’t want to waste any more time, he buys a boat and decides to sail across the Pacific Ocean.

Along with his friend Figman, Bryan makes a safe passage to French Polynesia. After spending some quality time in Tahiti, he travels up north and visits the islands of Kiribati. Then, on his way to Hawaii, he gets caught in the ferocious storm but eventually manages to reach the archipelago. There he meets a girl named Misty, who accompanies him to Palmyra and American Samoa. In Pago Pago, the pair is joined by Muzzy, a sailor from New Zealand willing to show them the dark passage to the Kingdom of Tonga.

In the Friendly Islands, the boys say goodbye to their female crewmember, then leave Polynesia behind and sail to Fiji and New Caledonia, before ending their adventure in beautiful Australia.

Review

This book is basically a written version of ‘The Hangover’, except that its story takes place on a boat which leisurely drifts through the warm waters of the Blue Continent. By no means is this a piece of serious literature. This title was created to entertain, to enthral, to give readers a little pleasure and enjoyment. I can assure you, if you grab this travelogue, you will get it all.

Of course, you may assume that any three-year-long voyage would be an exciting experience worth documenting in one way or another. That’s probably true; although personally I think this largely depends on a sailor. And Bryan… Well, Bryan is not your ordinary person. His jovial personality and ever-present eagerness to have fun is exactly what makes this account so extremely interesting. He had a blast during his journey and he didn’t mind writing about it in detail. So you’ll get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly; along with the hot, the steamy, the scary, the frightening, the strange, and the oddly bizarre. Each and every tale is spiked with his unique sense of humour, so you’ll definitely have quite a few laughs while reading about his South Seas frolics.

Now, Bryan’s memoir is predominantly about sailing. However, if you expect it to be a technical guide, you might be disappointed. It is nothing like this. You won’t find any useful tips, any practical advices here. But you will find a tremendously engaging narrative that will take you to the rough waters and magical islands of the Pacific Ocean, letting you discover some of the most fascinating cultures in the world. Without leaving your home, you’ll be able to walk on the white beaches and swim in pristine lagoons. You’ll be able to meet local inhabitants and a bunch of crazy tourists. In other words, you will have a hell of a good time.

So if you want to become a member of Bryan’s crew, simply read his book. I highly recommend it. It is a decently written account of a great voyage and I’m positive it will keep you entertained from the very first page. And who knows, maybe it will even inspire you to chase your own dreams?